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ERS Top FIVE Resources from 2021

2021 is coming to a close — as we look back, we are so inspired by the amazing work that our district and school partners, educators, and peers have done to make the most of a tough time.

This year, districts and schools around the country had to take a “Do Now, Build Toward” approach to address urgent student needs while still designing changes with a long-term vision in mind. Get inspired by their stories and explore ERS resources that can help you take action in your own system.

Here are our top 5 resources from 2021 — and real-life examples from districts and schools around the country. 


#1 |  ESSER Strategy Planner & Spending Calculator 


To support district teams in their decision-making, we created a DIY tool. The tool helps teams to reflect, select, and prioritize where to invest their ESSER funds, to estimate the full cost  of potential investments by exploring the related implementation costs beyond face value, and to compare the sustainability implications of various potential investments.

  • Supporting good planning at all levels: Check out the work Hartford Public Schools did to ensure they were investing their ESSER funds sustainably across the district — and see how Metro Nashville Public Schools adapted our calculator tool to support principals with school-level planning.




#2 | START HERE: power strategies


As district leaders worked to navigate an overwhelming array of options for addressing students’ academic and social-emotional needs, we identified five research-backed “power strategies” to focus investments and planning on. For each strategy, we also identified doable action items to start with and emerging examples from districts and schools across the country.  

  • Making the teaching job more collaborative and sustainable: Lander Elementary School in Mayfield Heights, Ohio changed teachers’ experiences for the better by designing schedules with rotating specials cycles that gave teachers more time to collaborate and to prepare learning experiences customized for their students. See the Lander Elementary case study here or check out this interview with principal Felecia Evans.




#3 | ESSER Guidance for School Staffing, Spending, & Scheduling


These eight guides provide a set of blueprints to support districts and schools with ESSER spending, scheduling, and staffing — including doable starting points, concrete examples of school schedules and staffing models, opportunities for sustainable investments, and the system-level enabling conditions necessary to make it all work.

  • Targeting time and attention for academic recovery: Our elementary school guide on small group instruction spotlights how Guilmette Elementary in Lawrence, Massachusetts aligned team schedules to create an intervention block across grade levels, allowing for flexible grouping.  
  • Supporting strong relationships and social-emotional well-being: Our high school guide on building strong relationships shares examples from two high schools in San Francisco —  at Hillsdale High School, students are assigned to “houses” with shared core teachers who loop with their students from 9th to 10th grade, allowing stronger relationships among teachers and students to form over time and for teachers to get to know their students even better personally and academically. And University High School, where advisors themselves have mentors to check in with to ensure that they experience the value of that type of relationship firsthand and feel supported in their work.




#4 |  Investing ESSER Funds Equitably 


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone — but it hasn’t affected everyone equally. For many students — including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners — the pandemic has compounded existing inequities. Here we share three key considerations to help system leaders center equity in their plans for what’s next and share examples from schools and districts around the country that are organizing for equity. 

  • Addressing underlying inequities: One way to address system inequities around students’ access to high-quality teaching practices is to offer additional pay and relocation bonuses for teachers to move into hard-to-staff schools and assignments. Dallas ISD  created incentives to pair their strongest teachers with the students who need the most support in everyday core instruction — see more about the district’s teacher incentive program here. Dallas ISD also expanded time to the school year to help achieve its priorities — you can learn more about this work here.  



#5 | Tending Gardens & Putting Out Fires 


After months of vision-setting, preparing COVID-recovery strategies, and carefully planning how to invest ESSER funds, school districts around the country are finding themselves up against new (and old) fires that feel like barriers to successful implementation — and there is widespread burnout and exhaustion. Here we outline five actions to help system leaders both “fight the fires” you need to fight, while still making progress toward your vision.  

  • Protecting the resources you need for your strategy: We’ve seen many districts work to protect and align resources with strategy by focusing on staffing assignments, including carving out specific responsibilities within roles, creating “ESSER chief” roles to shepherd planning, and assigning planning efforts to relevant departments. We’ve also seen districts focus on meeting time — for example, the full cabinet in one of our district partners now meets twice weekly: once on short-term “fires,” and once on long-term strategy development.  
  • Create space for mindfulness and wellness checks: One district has added 10 minutes to every principal meeting agenda to practice mindfulness; another district has increased common planning time to help save teachers’ time, reduce their workloads, and foster stronger relationships.




See our “Do Now, Build Toward” toolkit for more resources to help school systems maximize ESSER investments, improve students’ and teachers’ experiences, and advance equity — and for more real-life examples from schools, districts, and states around the country!  

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